retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We continue to get emails about Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s Wall Street Journal piece decrying the Obama administration’s approach to national health care reform, and about last Friday’s responses to Mackey’s piece.

MNB user Martha Whitman wrote:

I was surprised to see you print one reader's statement concerning health care reform, "I especially resent the women. They never worked, had their husbands’ insurance and somehow don't get it. Entitled and clueless."

Excuse me? In your same issue you report that women make almost 50% of the workforce and do more work at home then American husbands. Entitled and clueless? I wouldn't mind you publishing this man's comments if you had taken a stand against sexism and misogyny. Would you have let that gone to print if he had said that he resented black people, that they are lazy and entitled?

In the interest of accuracy, the MNB reader who made the original statement was a woman, not a man…though I did not make that clear on Friday.

I’m not sure if that makes it worse or better. Is it misogyny if a woman is making the statement? I’m not sure.

I have to say that I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, the language exposed a raw nerve that I thought was interesting and illustrative…but on the other hand, you’re right…had the reference been to black people instead of female people, it never would have gotten through.

At the very least, I should have commented on the statement and put it in context. Thanks for drawing it to my attention.

And another MNB user chimed in:

Regarding a comment from one of your users to John Mackey's piece, saying: "Rich folks, our politicians and our CEO’s will have enough money to pay for the extra care they want just like they do in Canada, Britain and other single payer countries…”

I would agree with him that rich folks in Canada, Britain and other single payer countries pay for the extra care they want or need. They pay for it here, in America, where they come to get the care they can't get in their countries! So, if a single payer system is established here, and the consequent rationing of care follows, where will these folks go then?

MNB had a piece on Friday about a New York Times report saying that “technology has shaken up plenty of life’s routines, but for many people it has completely altered the once predictable rituals at the start of the day.

“This is morning in America in the Internet age. After six to eight hours of network deprivation — also known as sleep — people are increasingly waking up and lunging for cellphones and laptops, sometimes even before swinging their legs to the floor and tending to more biologically urgent activities.”

MNB pointed out that these shifts create two issues for food marketers – figuring out how to reach consumers increasingly moving away from tradition media outlets (which has been, to be honest, a constant refrain here on the site), and figuring out what these people want to eat for breakfast that won’t drip on their keyboards.

One MNB user wrote:

I have read my local newspaper long before the computer is turned on in my household, but I am close to 50 and enjoy reading the paper with my morning cup of coffee. It doesn’t feel the same to hook up to the computer with my coffee.

Alternatively, I know that my 20 something daughter checks her e-mail before she gets out of bed in the morning and before she turns off the light at night. She rarely reads the paper. It is a new world and ads in the paper are not reaching the audience they once did.

Precisely my point.

MNB user Jeff Folloder wrote:

I used to never eat breakfast... and now I am almost always reaching for something handheld to go with the morning cafe' crema (freshly made from locally roasted beans in my fabulous Saeco superautomatica) whilst perusing the morning news and RSS feeds. Newspapers ceased to be a worthwhile alternative because of the presence of felines in the house. About the only mainstream news I get is the evening TV or disaster coverage. Like you, I tune out the ads and even have my Firefox browser set to magically remove 99% of online ads … So how is a marketer to get to me? New items are somewhat of a revelation to me, my daughters are convinced that I am impervious to the absorption of new trends (just not aware of them like I used to be), and that my tastes are decidedly "old school". I am, or at least should be, a primary target. Since I have created ways to insulate myself from most advertisements, shouldn't marketers be focusing on more effective ways to entice me?

I predict that the point of purchase is going to become the new battlefield of innovation. That is no great feat of intuition, though. I'm guessing that most folks have created similar barriers to ads and that the point of decision is one of the few arenas left available. I don't know if it is going to be stunning packaging, clever POP, the in-store chef whipping up Coquilles St. Jacques with all of the ingredients at hand, or something truly new and imaginative... I'm just thinking that it's the last, best chance to sway my decision.

I actually don't think that most people want to insulate themselves from marketing promotions – especially a younger generation of shoppers that thrives of knowing and adopting what’s hip and happening. (The use of this phrase, by the way, almost assuredly defines me as being neither hip nor happening. I can almost feel my kids rolling their eyes…)

What most people want are relevant and imaginative promotions that have some connection to their lives. Which is why the notion of mass media is so 20th century…and why companies of all stripes and in all venues have to be seeking and defining alternatives.

MNB user Jim Perko notes that Giant Eagle is using the Internet to get ahead of its print ad:

In Pittsburgh (land of Champions – not in the summer months) one can sign up to receive their ad (Mondays) that will be out in a few days (Thu – to following Wed) for the following week. It definitely gets perused prior to all the ads that are in the paper or received in the mail. Shopping days are planned or could be planned around that ad.

I agree with you!

This discussion has some connection to another discussion we’ve been having here on MNB - about my belief that while companies like Redbox are doing very well right now and deserve a lot of credit for creating a new business model, eventually it will be an obsolete model because downloading of movies will overtake them.

One MNB user responded:

One issue I am not seeing discussed in the “physical vs. digital” discussion is PRICE! CD’s physical and CD’s (or single songs) digital are virtually the same price – the cost of playing – an IPOD or a stereo are roughly the same price. On this product I agree with you. Movie downloads and subscriptions to NETFLIX and its competitors are more costly than $1.00 to rent a movie from Redbox overnight. A “Kindle” requires a significant investment and then purchases for books that cannot be shared unless you pass your kindle around (not having a Kindle I could be wrong on this so correct me if so). When Rupert, the FOX, figures out how to charge for content on the Internet along with the rest of the business world I think you will see a slowing down of the transition to full digital. I am in my mid-sixties and read the newspaper everyday – much of it old news since I am on the computer as well but old – good habits are hard to break. My morning paper, however, has suffered greatly in volume and relies mostly on “wire” stories to stay affordable. I just hope the day never comes when I have to select my produce on line and have to have it delivered because everything is digital. Of course by the time that happens none of us will have to leave our little computer rooms or homes because there will be NOWHERE to go except on line.

So cynical…

I prefer to think that the online environment opens worlds to us and our children. It doesn’t close them down. As with everything in life, we all have choices.

Of course, purveyors of various products and services in the physical world then have to deal with the challenge of being more engaging, of being worth the trip and the effort.

Then again, nobody ever said this was going to be easy.

I made a brief reference on Friday to Walmart not being a typically acquisitive company in the US, which led one MNB user to correct me:

Actually, Walmart has had many US acquisitions in its history, but most of them were too long ago for most of us to remember. Here are a few off hand that I can remember:

1981 - Big K stores (115 Stores)
1987: Sam's acquires southern competitor Super Saver Wholesale chain.
1993: Company acquires Pace Membership Club, a struggling chain owned by Kmart.

Other noteworthy acquisitions include:

Hutcheson Shoes of Ft Smith
Anderson News (1990/1991)
McClane 1990’s – Later sold and became a subsidiary of Berkshire-Hathaway Holdings.

Thanks for the info.

And finally, as is my wont, I quoted a particular song lyric on Friday, which led MNB user David L. White to write:

Thanks for the reference to “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” by Billy Joel.

Upon reading it, I immediately pulled it up on the iPod and turned up the volume! For the record (pun intended), I actually converted the song from my vinyl album, so it still has the subtle pops and scratches, which seem to add to the character of the song. It’s going to be a good day.

That’s music to my ears.
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